A ‘Whirlwind’ Experience at Sea

Statutory Warning! The next 1282 words, describe a ‘Whirlwind experience‘ aboard a floating world in the middle of the ocean. Granted its not an apt choice of words and I got home all accounted for, it did feel like just that- the minute I boarded the Mariner of the Seas by Royal Caribbean – a colossal 138,000 tons cruise ship, with 15 decks of activity poised in serenity at the Singapore Harbor.

From afar, one would be misguided to underestimate the ‘fun’ hidden within. After all, it does look like any other cruise ship meant for the honeymooners of mush. Looks can be deceiving, and I happened to witness it first hand the minute I boarded. “There is something for everyone”- a line that has been used beyond reckoning and is rather staid these days, not to mention over promised, would be the apt title for this ‘cruise’ and it sure lives up to its name. Let me give you a few activities that left me spell bound and thoroughly engrossed enough to realize that 96 hours passed me by. Did someone mention the relativity of time in a Interstellar manner of speaking?

THE Dreamworks Parade

Its an all star round up when life size characters of King Julian and Princess Fiona and Kung Fu Panda parade up and down the gangway to welcome one and all aboard this journey of Fun and Frolic. They even are amazing enough to click photographs with. Check out Gloria from Madagascar, she is a whole lot of hug and is quite supportive for ones weight ego issues, in a diminutive matter of speaking.

For the DareDevil in you

One realizes that moment of self proclaimed fallacies in regards to ‘physical fitness’ when the sign up for the adventure zone. You have a Rock climbing wall for the enthusiast such as ‘moi’ to climb atop and suspend oneself 25 feet above deck with unparalleled horizons of the deep blue sea and all that lurks within and shout out with arms wide stretched ‘I am the king of the world’ and play spectacle to all below who guffaw at your idiosyncrasies.

Or if that doesn’t cut it for you, try colour-coordinating footwear to match golf balls on the mini golf course during putting practice. Mind the wind and draft, it plays havoc on ones putting stance, or maybe it was the alcohol talking from one of the many bars around. For all the ‘insomniac hoopsters’ in the house, there is nothing like a great game of Basketball at 2am in the morning.

A Jacuzzi and Movie

Not all Fun and Games require physical exercise. After the bitter sweet realization sets in and parts of ones body, unheard of before- scream for attentive rejuvenation the best way to swallow ones bruised pride, no pun intended, is to catch a movie on a larger than life screen close to 70mm theatre sized format, in the middle of a bubbly Jacuzzi at 9 pm till midnight. I had a wonderful time watching a country western- The Magnificent Seven, with a beer in one hand and a shower of rain from above during the movie. A surreal experience indeed. Do remember to keep the towel handy, as the wind gets rather gusty in the wee hours of the morning. A definitive experience- with like-minded company, to redefine the term ‘Netflix and chill’. Goes without saying I wasn’t so lucky given three hairy men sharing my tub. Three more and I would be living my country western flick in real bubbly life, as a matter of speaking.

John Travolta meets Evgeni Plushenko

Contrary to popular belief, the ship while cruising is as stable as a Professor delivering a lecture on quantum astro physics on a cold winters day in Harvard. However, if some wish to get ‘Jiggy’ with it, allow me to suggest two multiple varieties on two different surfaces. For starters you could head to the neon lit discotheque at the far end of the ship, and boogie away to Saturday night fever Travolta style, and bust a move while you at it or be a vision on ice like the 4 time Olympian Evgeni Plushenko. Yes don’t look so baffled, I assure you I am not doing a Hemingway through this article and this piece is written and edited sober. There is an ice skating rink in the middle of the ship!!!! And you can learn the art of making a complete fool of yourself and redefining the term ‘Bottoms Up’ every few feet on twin blades. Whats more allow for the show to begin post ‘your’ practice rounds and see these graceful figurines make you feel inadequate and left footed every step of the way. Please wear full pants, I speak from experience having to break away follicles of hair like icicles due to the severity of the cold.

A Yankee and a show

Given all the vigorous and not so vigorous activity leaves one famished. What better experience than to dine at Johnny Rockets, one of the specialty restaurants transporting you back to the days of jukeboxes, hamburgers, hotdogs, sundaes and corn chilly fries. The Strawberry milkshake is best left to be sampled as words currently transport me to the chunky bits of fresh strawberry amidst goodness of brain freeze slush. Set in a 60’s setting of the American diner this is a fun filled experience for adults and kids alike with a set menu that includes some scrumptious mouthwatering fare that would appease the palates of adults and kids alike.

Consume the meal with gusto and don’t miss to catch the Musical at the indoor theatre Gallery of Dreams.

Its a world class production and keeps ones feet stomping through the spectacle.
Jackpot ‘Kaching!!!’

Right about now, the only infamous words coming to my mind is the sputtering of Clint Eastwood to the tune of ‘Feeling lucky punk’. No, I am not held at gunpoint nor am I in a Mexican standoff at the Roulette tables in the casino below deck. A full-fledged casino to satiate the appetite and wallet of the gambler in you, this gambler paradise has something for everyone. From slot machines to Blackjack to 21 one never gets bored. I even managed to win a little as a first time gambler. What can i say, beginners luck perhaps? After all, the house always wins right? Maybe not applicable in this case given it’s technically not a house? One would never know!! To question or not to question, that is the answer. Strictly for adults only.

As I sign off, I would like to harp upon the activities NOT covered in the gambit of Fun and Frolic aboard. Time did not permit me in a 19 hour day of whirlwind madness to indulge myself in the VitalitySM Spa with 100+ treatments with medi-spa treatments and acupuncture or the 4 pools including the Solarium that is an adults only retreat.

Nor was I privy to the state-of-the-art Fitness center with classes that included Tai chi and yoga or indulge my shopping delights in the duty-free shopping on the Royal Promenade including a Coach¯ store, jewelry, perfumes, apparel and shopping etc. Time also did not permit me to enjoy my stateroom with ocean facing balcony that had a flat-screen television with touchscreen way finders and digital signage to get the digital geek in me fed and be happily content. However having witnessed it all, I am eager and ready to get on my next cruise for a longer duration of time to plan my schedule more meticulously to experience all that it has to offer.

Boredom is never an option aboard the vastness of the ocean thanks to Royal Caribbean and Tirun Marketing.

Picture courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Images shot on IPhone6

The Suitcase Diaries: Legend of Banaras 

Varanasi, also known as Banaras, plays home to much that is magical and mystical. A journey through the core of Uttar Pradesh’s ascetic region, highlighting why this destination is one worth exploring

 Varanasi, also known as Kashi or Banaras, is the world’s oldest continually inhabited city and has been a cultural centre of North India for several thousand years, closely associated with the Ganges. A major centre for pilgrimage in Hinduism, it is believed that death in the city will bring salvation. If one had to describe the soul of this place in a sentence, it would be aptly described in the words of Tahir Shah: “The combination of enlightenment and death is the primary business of the city.” 

There is more than meets the eye; lurking beneath this city, filed with a rich lineage and culture of education, music, gastronomic feats, history, mysticism and trade, this city has something for everyone. Vibrant and eclectic with a wide variety of choice, this city has churned out a number of prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians who live or have lived in the city. 

Home to one of Asia’s largest residential universities – Banaras Hindu University (BHU) – the city gives one the nostalgic feeling of a potpourri of religious beliefs as it is believed that Buddha founded Buddhism here in around 528 BC when he gave his first sermon, ‘The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma’, at nearby Sarnath, and Guru Nanak Dev visited Varanasi for Shivratri in 1507, a trip that played a large role in the founding of Sikhism. For the culturally acute, Tulsidas wrote his epic poem on Rama’s life called ‘Ram Charit Manas’ in Varanasi. Here’s through the looking glass of the recent Uttar Pradesh Travel Writers Conclave 2016, the marvels of what this spiritual city has to offer.

 Postcards from Varanasi

 

For those sweet tooth cravings, indulge in a Gulab Jamun – a milk-solids-based sweet mithai. Made mainly from milk solids, traditionally from freshly curdled milk, it is often garnished with dried nuts like almonds to enhance flavour. A dish prepared during the medieval times here, it is derived from a fritter that Persianate Central Asian Turkic invaders brought to India. One theory claims that it was accidentally prepared by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s personal chef. The word ‘gulab’ is derived from the Persian words ‘gol’ (flower) and ‘āb’ (water), referring to the rose water-scented syrup. ‘Jamun’ or ‘jaman’ is the Hindi-Urdu word for Syzygium jambolanum, an Indian fruit with a similar size and shape.

 

Stroll the serene and quiet morning scenes from the Sonwa Mandap in Chunar fort, near Varanasi; a fort filled with stories and legends galore. One tells the story of Nepali king Sandeva (1333) who built this structure for his daughter Sonwa (translates to Golden hair) when he was looking to find her a husband. 


He had but one condition: the suitor had to defeat him to win his daughter’s hand in marriage. Fifty-two kings tried and lost their heads in the process. The pavilion never donned the avatar of amandap (marriage hall) because as the story goes, Sonwa was spirited away by an admirer who chose not to fight. Blood and gore trumped by peace and tranquility. From supervised baths of royalty to executions and solitary confinement of prisoners over the years of its many rulers and reigns, this place has many tales to tell; after all, legends are but elements of truth, based on historical facts with ‘mythical qualities‘.

 

 The Silk Puppeteers are the weavers from an era past, entrusted with the delicate ‘zari‘, brocade work of the intricate Benaras sarees. During the Mughal period around the 14th century, weaving of brocades with intricate designs using gold and silver threads became the speciality of Banaras. Depending on the intricacy of its designs and patterns, a saree can take from 15 days to a month and sometimes up to six months to complete. With no room for error, and precision at its finest hour, these master weavers spin stories via silk. 

Did you know? In the old days, women used to cook food wearing pure silk sarees as they were fire resistant. Also, they had an anti bacterial property that made for hygienic cooking. 

 

Ever had that moment, when the beauty of an object left you speechless? Ponder and revel in Meenakari artwork. Expensive indeed, this art form was invented by Iranian craftsmen during the Sasanied era and Mongols spread it to India and other countries. Its name is derived from ‘Mina’, referring to the azure colour of heaven.

 

A group of priests daily at this ghat perform the Agni Puja (Worship to Fire) wherein a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganga (the Ganges), Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe. Dashashwamedh Ghat is the main ghat and is located close to Vishwanath Temple. This is probably the most spectacular ghat. 

Two Hindu legends are associated with it: The First – Lord Brahma created it to welcome Lord Shiva. 

According to the second legend, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses during Dasa-Ashwamedha yajna performed here. The yajna dates back to ancient India and was a horse sacrifice ritual followed by the Śrauta tradition of Vedic religion. 

Used by ancient Indian kings to prove their imperial sovereignty, a horse accompanied by the king’s warriors would be released to wander for a period of one year. In the territory traversed by the horse, any rival could dispute the king’s authority by challenging the warriors accompanying it. After one year, if no enemy had managed to kill or capture the horse, the animal would be guided back to the king’s capital. It would be then sacrificed, and the king would be declared as an undisputed sovereign.

 

From sages and mystics to a dip in the Holy Ganga to the Sadhu deep in trance, the city is bustling with activity at the crack of dawn. A man, wrapped in a white shroud, his head freshly shaved, sits mournfully and watches a burning pyre. A bamboo ladder, supporting another body, its shape visible under an orange shroud, makes its way to its final immersion in Mother Ganges. Cows standing idly, then settle down amidst the debris to chew cud. The omnipresent pye-dog picks its way down to the water’s edge. A purple kite flown by a child on a nearby roof climbs impossibly high into the sky. A burning candle, surrounded by flowers, someone’s offering, bobs along in their wake. Rub the sleep of one’s eyes and make way to the banks of the Ganga to see the ritualistic salutations to the elements via traditional beliefs. A morning snapshot for the senses.

How to get there?
• Distance between Varanasi and Goa is 1746 km by road along with an aerial distance of 1450 km.

• There are no direct flights or trains or buses available between Varanasi and Goa. The convenient and fastest way to reach from Varanasi to Goa is to take a plane from Varanasi to Goa via Mumbai and Delhi.

• The cheapest way to reach Goa from Varanasi is to take a flight from Varanasi to Mumbai then take Matsyagandha Express from Mumbai to Goa.

 Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

 

Tolerance or Menace? 


As a travel writer and consultant, i am of the firm belief that a place is defined by the holistic society that comprises it lending itself to the aura and experience of ‘tourists & guests’ that visit it. 
The burning question today in the Times of India. 
Is the menace of hawkers & beggars on beaches giving Goan tourism a bad image? 

Hawkers and beggars are either direct or indirect outcomes of the society that creates them. From a tourist stand point it’s important to note that it does tarnish the overall experience of the state or any other state/ country for that matter in the same breath as infrastructure, security etc. 
The experience of a tourist friendly destination is the seamless integration of all these factors involved making it ‘tourist friendly’ for all who visit our lovely state. 

Though I’d take a step back and split the two in entirety- hawkers sell products to earn what some would call a ‘honest living’, beggars prey on the emotional quotient of humans as a outreach program for help and monetary motives. 

Why? Cause ‘no thank you’ , is never taken at face value. I’ve seen them pester tourists into involuntary submission just to not have them hang around them. This also has a negative impact on us as a tourist friendly destination. As mentioned earlier it’s deep seeded and is more than meets the eye.

Tell me what you think. Here’s my take and personal opinions on it. 

M.P.D @ Lafayette Gourmet 

Alter ego personality clashes are uncommon among most….. FALSE!!! 
In my opinion- everyone has at least two personalities within whether they identify with it or not. Now take someone with Multiple Palate Disorder and an overriding sensation of being spoilt for choice, with 11 cuisines fighting for ones palate sample at La Fayette Gourmet, Dubai Mall and you would understand the term- Sensory Overload. 

A sanctuary, right within a bustling mall that serves the likes of lip smacking Rotisserie, Moroccan, Italian, Asian, Sushi Art, Indian, Grills, Mediterranean and mouthwatering beverages to choose from it really sends even a seasoned palate into a tantalising tease. 
Introduced by a family friend, Andrea- with the menu being conceptualised even before I set foot in Dubai, this restaurant’s reputation precedes itself and does have a dedicated fan following. Little wonder given the fact that Lafayette translates to ‘faith‘ a la ‘faithful‘ 

To segregate the meal let me first start off with a out of bed kickstart- Turkish Coffee. As the famous Turkish proverb goes; “Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love”. 
Turkish Coffee

I love the traditions that go along with the way one consumes a Turkish coffee- the meticulous details followed. There’s a certain way of preparing it. Other than having Turkish coffee beans, you need small coffee pot (copper is recommended) called “cezve” and Turkish coffee cups (thin porcelain cups like espresso cups) called “fincan”. If the beans are not ground, a Turkish coffee grinder (kahve degirmeni) is required for that smooth flow and taste to boot. 

Note: If you are not making your own Turkish coffee but being served, let the host/waiter know in advance how much sugar you want in it. It can either be served as sade (without sugar), az sekerli (a little sugar), orta (medium sugar) or sekerli (sweet).

Steeped deep in tradition, after drinking the coffee, there’s another waiting for the ones who like fortune reading. This tradition of reading someone’s future from the coffee grounds is called “fal” and very popular in Turkey. They say “Don’t believe fortune telling but don’t be left without it”. 

Did you know? Back in the old times when a woman was asked for marriage, potential husbands were served coffee and allowed to judge whether the woman was a good match for marriage based upon her ability to make coffee. Some prospective brides used to add salt instead of sugar in order to avoid an unwanted marriage. And if they wanted to end the marriage talks, they used to spill coffee over the guests. Even today, in modern Turkey, some people still keep traditions alive.

If the coffee didn’t jumpstart my senses the next serving sure did. 


Lafayette Wasabi prawns with mango salsa. Aptly described as a ‘riot’ to ones olfactory senses- succulent crunchy farm fresh prawns coated with a wasabi dip and sweet mango salsa. The first reaction is the crunch followed by the tingling hair follicles stimulated by the wasabi dip and the mango salsa playing agony aunt to ones singed tongue. This is a dish that hits the spot- in a matter of literal speaking. 
Something to cool oneself down with an Italian salad had its calling in the Burrata mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes and gazpacho vinaigrette


Ideal to share just the way the ‘Italians like it’ (sic), it’s reminiscent of the way cheese is to be consumed. Rich creamy gelatinous textures, engulf ones palate and scraps back a rolling jawline to consume it in entirety, it’s a sin to relinquish this dish in haste. The juicy tomatoes and crunchy bruschetta accompaniment all pans out perfectly much like a synchronised orchestra with tones of ‘Whiplash’ in between. Bang for the buck- (no pun intended.)

Nearly consumed yet craving for more I decided to skip dessert with more focus on the Warm Goat Cheese parcels with roasted beetroot salad, rocket leaves and raspberry vinaigrette. Yes I can see all you folk rolling your eyes in wonder at a first- (no dessert?), just goes to show how M.P.D skewed the food made me. It made me switch loyalties. Sigh!!! I go shoot myself now. 

Anyhow before I do, imagine an old Chinese uncle taking you to a decrepit attic on your 18th birthday and handing over a silk tightly enclosed parcel with ornate wonders and treasures within (not the creepy kind, think more like The Emperor Tomb from The Mummy franchise) – the sense of entitlement and satisfaction consume you all at once, with the warm goat cheese gushing and urging you to consume each parcel whole (no droplets of cheese will be wasted) with the roasted beetroot and raspberry vinaigrette laying a smooth tarmac of sweetness to accompany the fermented cheese atop ones tongue. 
It’s no wonder with creations like these, that this establishment has its ‘faithful‘ heading back to their doors for more, time and again. I look forward to my next dessert for Round 2. 

Images shot on Iphone6 

Ready.Set.Jump 

“Welcome to the jungle,” said the spider to the fly. You enter at ease, with dense scenic foliage around. Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary- a wildlife-protected sanctuary has an eclectic range of flora and fauna species nestled deep in the heart of South Goa. Painted billboards along the way, a guide to the forest dwellers inhabiting the jungle– king cobra, kraits, Russell vipers and the common rat snake and the elusive leopard and many species of spider and scorpion. Deep within the jungle is a hidden treasured extreme activity- Canyoning. An exhilarating technique-oriented sport, its activities range from walking, abseiling, wading and swimming through waist deep and open waters, scrambling, climbing, jumping and sliding down natural slopes. Imagine, Indiana Jones wet dream.

 Three guides, with a cumulative 25 years of experience, direct each expedition. Being a moderately risk defined activity- Safety is paramount. Medical kits are on standby– water, helmets and harnesses with a wet suit provided. Instructions are delivered post the signing, of a surreal consent form. It’s more dissuasive than persuasive. One has to be moderately fit, not afraid of snakes or spiders, and have no fear of water or heights.

 The jeep meanders an uphill road, a few grunts and shrieks later; arrives at the destination. You tread the off beaten path no more than a few feet wide with loose gravel and strewn spider webs on the earth’s floor for company. It’s humid and the smell of wet earth engulfs the air. There are ascents, which run 75o inclines that get you huffing & puffing. Itchy cacti stand guard to the river like militia. It gives you the sense of a quest for lost treasure – a secret to be discovered. One is allowed multiple breaks and the guides – Clement, Vlad and Philip – are an enthusiastic laugh riot. Their jabber makes the trek bearable. The sound of cascading water can be heard beyond the dense foliage ahead. The course charts 3kms in total, yet having barely crossed a kilometer, the lactic acids in ones legs start to build up.

 Standing at the cliff’s edge, one realizes there’s no turning back. Once underway, the way out is seeing it through the end. The Sauri River majestically makes its way over rocks and boulders with numerous waterfall drops in the distance. 

At a point in a deep cove, resides Brian- a water snake. Luck in their favor, the guides catch the elusive irate reptile and can make a formal introduction on request. The canyon puts one to the test, and chances to conquer it are high, though with a few minor nicks and scratches and a multitude of tumbles in tow expected. The ending for this beginner course is far more theatrical, to say the least. The last rappel against gushing water from up above, one is informed of the rope holding self is a few meters short. The only way left, is to let go!! Fear not, the water below embraces the fall tenderly much to the impish grins of the guides above. A sense of accomplishment beckons on departure amidst tired bones and muscle aches – which would have one ready to repeat this again. Or maybe it would be the adrenaline talking; longing to see Brian, once again.

 A great place to stay at is La Mangrove. A blink-and-miss eco resort in Katebag, it offers a modern tipi concept opposite a serene mangrove. An idyllic, tipi accommodation and river lounge garden in South-Goa, only 5 minutes by cycle from the beautiful protected Galgibag Beach, also known as Turtle Beach. It’s located in an authentic and charming Goan Catholic village, 25 minutes from the famous Palolem beach. The river lounge is a ‘bubble of fresh air,’ a place to escape from the hustle & bustle of life. 

A panoramic view of what expects you at La Mangrove 

The view transcends your senses to an alternate realm of peace and calm with only the occasional egret and Brahmin kite for company. Being an eco resort that’s one with nature, the tipis come with open-to-sky bathrooms and thatched walls right behind each with a common meeting and dining area right next to the mangrove. The reception is good with free wi-fi and a delectable organic menu to choose from.

 Perfect for an early morning awakening, with a hot cup of tea to watch the sun rise from behind the riverbed far ahead.

La Mangrove has an exclusive sitting area facing the river and mangrove. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are prepared daily with organic foods by their chef from a set menu. Serving a range of Indian, Tibetian & Continental -a must try is their La Mangrove Momos, Pasta a la carbonara, Tentuk soup. 

The deep fried chocolate momo’s with vanilla ice cream is a must try. 

The breakfast is part of the package with a choice of continental and a healthy option. The food prepared is fresh and wholesome. 

A scrumptious continental spread to start the day at La Mangrove 

Another option is 10 minutes away on Turtle Beach at Santosh Bar & Restaurant. Known for his fresh fish and recommended by Jamie Oliver you should ask for the catch of the day. 

Fresh catch of the day. Basic. Scrumptious. 

An unforgettable sunset amidst the crashing waves

Word of Advice: 

  • Avoid Canyoning if you suffer from arachnophobia
  • Canyoning is best done between October and March
  • If you suffer from any serious medical conditions it is best to avoid this activity as it is very strenuous on ones body.
  • There are a variety of levels to accomplish depending on fitness levels.

Tour Operator: It is recommended you book your stay through the website http://www.lamangrovegoa.com for the best deals. Thibault can be contacted on +91 8408086365 or lamangrovegoa@gmail.com

For the canyoning experience it is best booked with Emanuel Ferre the owner of Goa Jungle Adventure. He can be contacted on +919850485641 or manu@goajungle.com


 This article was written for Lonely Planet Magazine as part of their Easy trips. No part of this publication  can be reproduced without prior consent/ approval of LPMI. 

Chocolate momos, Fresh catch, breakfast, panoramic views, hammock Pic courtesy by Nolan Mascarenhas Photography. Shot on Iphone6. Images for main article shot by Sameer Mangtani.

Tea, The Bard & Me 

Hello from Abu Dhabi. What am I doing here? Well of course I’ve come for a spot of tea to Shakespeare & Company- a Victorian era themed restaurant offering a diverse menu of reputed international fare with a elegant French patisserie for most of their short acts. 
The minute one steps into the gateway doors, is transported to a scene right off Downtown Abbey- sans the eloquent language in tow. As part of my #AbuDhabi #Foodtrail, this quaint little bistro is first off my list. From the overpowering interiors of Victorian frills and decor, to the friendly staff this has everything on spectacle- as an offering. 

The Dessert Bar 

The dessert bar, stretches far and wide with sumptuous fare, that tingles my tastebuds, leading me to the cardinal mistake of what we all suffer from- ones eyes being larger than ones stomach! I did eventually fall prey to the same and zestfully ordered more than I could chew, for lack of a better word. After all, I recollected the words of the famous bard in the background as I gorged on my first offering. 

Our bodies are our gardens,

Our will are our gardeners. 

-William Shakespeare

Will? Hah. Act One, as I lovingly called it was a Will, that fell as fast as the cookie crumbled.

 I decided to put my ‘smart consumption‘ skills to the test and try the Caramansi- a white sponge cake, coated with a creamy caramel chocolate and rice crisps sealed with oozing calamansi cream and lemon zest peel with noga for company in a sort of airtight containment formed this decadent dessert. 

Act One- The Caramansi 

Don’t let the photography fool you. This calorie monster, was no bigger than a bangle- in the palm of my hand. And I had the feeling of being well satiated with the serving as ‘apt sizing‘. However the buildup to the tea was the ultimate goal, so I truged along like a trooper. 

Act Two- Cheesecake

And then there was Cheesecake. You must be wandering how this dessert made its way in the middle of my choicest selections? Well, I’m a creature of habit and a cheesecake is a must have in any French patisserie. The quintessential raspberry jam with baked Cheese cream and a digestive biscuit base. They were taunting me with the word ‘digestive’ which was anything but, with all the calories flying around midair like scribbled crumpled pages to a rooms corner as did the famous bard. I could feel his snickering presence haunt me as to the faux pas I was in the process of committing. 

Act Three- Hazelnut Success 

This was NOT intentional. The server did not understand the gravity of the situation, when she mistakenly mentioned the following words;’ Almond Macaronade biscuit laden with hazelnut cream coated with caramelised Hazelnut chocolate coating’ , that sent all my senses into a tizzy much like a pinball machine on power surge with me almost demanding for one in a toned matter of speaking, ‘give me that and no one gets hurt‘. 

Think I scared her out of her wits as I didn’t see her for the remainder of the evening. As I said. Unintentional is the keyword I’m falling on. This is turning out to be a tea time snack of EPIC proportions. (No pun intended) 

Act Four- The Rising Flower & Caramel Eclaire

What I really did come to savor was the Rising Flower. The art and balance of carefully selecting a flower bud and allowing it to blossom inside a transparent tea kettle, watching it bloom entirely over 8 minutes (to the ‘T’)  was truly magical. The process of transforming hues with the tea light candle for company, was mesmerising and before one knew it the flower,had blossomed  with whifty tones of camomile & infused jasmine for that ethereal calming effect. Two sips and I decided to square it off with their signature Caramel Eclaire – fate a choux with caramel creame. It’s hard to describe the senses that rushed through my brain at first bite. The choux pastry was a perfect melted moment with the caramel creame for company oozing out at every bite. 

I sat there, with a satiated look on my face for the better half of the hour post consumption. However, this foodtrail has gotten off to a great start with the bard whispering in my ear, as I depart- “All’s well that ends well” 

mr. NObody and The Goan 

Hello one and all. Currently living out of my suitcase, managed to have a lovely chat with the folks at The Goan recently. 

A lovely tete-e-tete with Kurt Bento about the world of mr. NObody and his views on the world of gastronomy. 

The full interview with mr. NObody. 
  

What prompted you to do this culinary journey to different cities and countries over the past months? And where do you go? 

mr. NObody is a lifestyle blogger,showcasing travel and food from India and the world. This year the focus is on quest for the Michelin trail and South East Asia as a region. So far he has travelled to Dubai for the ‘Eat the World Food  Festival’ followed by a Michelin starred restaurant by Vineet Bhatia and Bangkok for another two starred chef. A few institutional restaurants were on the list which included Bread Street by Gordon Ramsey, Zuma in Abu Dhabi and Long table in Bangkok. 

You’re mr. NObody,aren’t you? Why the avatar? 

I grew up in a world where everyone places a value on self importance. Everyone today is a somebody or wishes to be one. With a pun on the word NO- Nolan and heavily inspired by the lyrics of Marilyn manson and his song ‘The Nobodies‘ growing up, the character was born. It’s my satirical take on the importance of man. 

You’ve been to some interesting and new innovative places in Mumbai/Delhi, tell us about them. 

Interesting would be an understatement. Some insanely creative, to knock ones senses silly. For example, Ziya in Mumbai – for a special preview of the Jugalbandi festival comprising of three Michelin starred chefs coming to blend Italian, India and Far East Asian (Japanese predominately) for a 8 course meal of gastronomic delights, with a touch of class or panache eating on a limited edition gold plated crockery from Italy. A true master piece of opulence and flavorsume creativity; indeed. 

The crowd in Mumbai/Delhi respond to new places, new innovations in food etc. Goa doesn’t have that big a market base, so do you think we’ll ever see that kind of innovation here?

Mumbai and Delhi are the yin & yang sisters of the culinary food world. The buzz is eclectic, vibrant and cut throat thus raising the standards of the consumers culinary palate. Restauranteurs bring their ‘A’game, day in and out in order to survive, let alone thrive. The consumers are globally aware- hence being up to date and abreast of the latest happenings is a must. A concept is only good for an few years, at most,as most customers fatigue of the same as soon as they have adopted the same.  A few restaurants however have stood the test of time and retained their legacy till date. For upcoming entrepreneurs it’s an exciting time to get into the culinary field indeed. A challenge ,so to speak with a huge payoff if done right. Goa;  I am pleased to note is opening up to the same given the same customer base who flock to the location as a relaxing party destination. Speciality restaurants are sprouting up and I have been witness to an iota of the innovations at standalone and starred properties alike. So, I am quite pleased. 

With the advent of social media and the Internet, identifying a Michelin recipe demonstration and trying ones hand at it, has become accessible. Many creative chefs here have showcased their wares which I have highlighted in a dedicated article on my blog. 

Your experience at Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant in Dubai was interesting. Tell us about that. 



For starters, no food was thrown out the kitchen, neither did it have anyone leave for the main door crying. Then again its probably cause he was at the Oscars during my visit there.

 On a serious note, I have had a brief meeting with him earlier and he is a gem of a person. I was amazed for a multitude of reasons. First, the simplicity in a world of complexity and too much happening on ones plate. His ethos is simple. Wholesome food to be shared is the motto. The portions are huge. There is no fancy plating-just presentable. 

The kitchen is a dream and its line mechanism is splendid to the view of an orchestra pyramid setting. After all dishing out service that ensures ones order reaches the table in under 7 minutes for a 400 odd seater restaurant- is symphony at play. 

The little nuances- details from subliminal design to belt buckles of the server being the Union Jack flag, adds the finness to a well oiled machine and keen eye. 5 dishes consumed including dessert and my meal ended before it started- In 30 minutes flat. Quite an interesting case study. 

Tell us about Michelin and its latest craze that has gripped many foodies around.  

It’s interesting you ask that question. What I love about Michelin is the origination of the concept. How a tyre company got into the world of food and being reverred as one of the most sought after institutions to be associated with. In my limited tryst with a few chefs associated with it, it’s the level of commitment and creativity in the subjectivity of cuisine and marrying a few to create ‘nuvo cuisine’ that drives them. 

It’s exhilarating to see the passion exuded in the quest for something that is terrifying as well as visually stimulating as some foods do not play well with others. A dish could go completely awry and that’s the risk they take day in and out, to get the perfect concoction. A work of edible art in a matter of speaking. Also another philosophy I truly appreciate is the concept of less is more. Given today’s need to try and sample as much as one can digest in one sitting, emphasis of less is more in a portion- is something they are masters off. 

This adds to a lot of creativity as well as a whole rounded meal as a by product, leaving the customer to experience a holistic dining experience while at it. 

 What is the common thread with modern restaurants today. How do they change things up?

Restauranting today is evolving into an art form for many. Visual appeal is the call for hour in an age of Instagram and social media. ‘Eat with ones eyes‘ is the moniker many restraunteer folk are banking on. And everyone, (self included) is on a Michelin sojourn- to experiment, pair and follow the latest trends of mixing and pairing cuisines from across the world. It’s a format that is adopted which is acceptable to many. Small and precise with immense visual appeal to intice the wow factor in consumers. 

Having said that its great to see the level of creativity used to make dining an ‘experience‘ instead of just dishing out voluminous plates of curries and gravies with side garnishes as an after thought measure. The trend indeed,is, in a momentous change for the better. 

South East Asian food is always light and healthy. Can we learn from the Thais and Malaysians when it comes to creating healthier and lighter food? 

I believe it’s universal. Leaving aside an ethnicity of sorts, many cultures have hidden treasures which are globally adopted. Take for example Greek and Mediterranean food. It’s light. Filled with wholesome goodness from the oils to salads made. 

In my opinion, a big error in the past,in the Indian context was the trifecta of oil, sugar & salt and loads of spice plastered across dishes to make it platable for the end consumer. This would be wrong on so many levels as the flavour emitted from certain meats and vegetables would get lost in the preparation. That trend is nearly extinct due to change in pattern of the evolved customer who are adapting to a lighter, less portioned served healthier lifestyle of dishes. The calorie conscious customer is defining the trend these days. 

What’s your go to cuisine, apart from Goan food? And if you had a chance to cook just one dish for your culinary idol, what would it be? Are you a good cook, btw? 

mr. NObody is a culture vulture. In a current frame of mind, I am fresh off Thai herbs and spices and am tripping on pad Thai noodles- relished at an ashram in Thailand. However right before that I was in love with the simplistic spice rub on a lovely kebab in Abu Dhabi. Thyme and herbs salt rubbed on succulent meats grilled to perfection. 

However, I love to experiment with salads and greens as a daily detox diet when I’m not working my tastebuds to the ground. Cooking for my culinary idol is tough one. First and foremost living in a household of food writers and hospitality professionals my writing is under scrutiny let alone my cooking skills. 

For those who know me, my love for barbecues is paramount. So it would probably be something on the spit with a refreshing mock tail/cocktail for company. Perhaps a good oriental seasoning rub over a local fish. 

A good cook? One and all are invited over and let me know your thoughts post. 

I want to EAT the WORLD & I want it NOW!!!!

I’m on a trip.  No, I am not under the influence of psychotropic substances or reaffirming my existence as a shaman in an alternate universe. However i believe at times I am almost there, when listening to one of my all time favourite artist- James Douglas Morrison. A poetic, retrospective frame of mind. And right about now, I want to Eat the world indeed! What better place to start at- Eat the World DXB

I must admit, I’ve been trolling (OK, stalking more like it – Milo & Hectors Ice cream ever since 2015.) The fat kid in me loves ice cream ever so much,gawked and drooled  at the ‘Ice cream sandwich’ like Kris Kringle to cookies and milk on a Christmas chimney shake shake. 

So on a prayer and an over booked flight, i make my way to the first of a series of #foodtrails this year and the first stop is Dubai. While most of you have been to this tourist destination, there’s not much to mention that you already are unaware off. So diving into the concept of Eat the World DXB– it reminds me of a gypsy caravan tent site. Mind you, the majority of folk there in participation were British, albeit the food anything but, the oh so famous -Fish & Chips. Each one setup across the sprawled lawns, right next to the majestic Burj Khalifa that played gracious and colorful  host with its amazing light and sound display, across the tower as well as the periodic dancing fountains in front of it. The weather was peppy and crisp with a nip in the air, that would allow you to curl up in a blanket and settle into the sounds of funk and some great covers from the band in the background. A camp site indeed (sans the bonfire and gypsies dancing around it in rejoicement and celebration.

  The Burj Khalifa. Need I say more? Didn’t stand a chance to get a glimpse of Shilpa Shetty though. Food with a view indeed. 

I have always pride myself in understanding the finer nuances and cheat codes of deciphering an all you can eat buffet, by trying to beat the system. Albeit, just like the discreet charm of a casino, the house always does get the better of me and win. With over 45 camper trucks participating with eclectic food ranging from Crab burgers and sushi to Mexican burritos, pizzas and gelatos this poised itself as a mini episode of Man vs Food with a selective calorie choice of sorts for moi. 

Always up for a challenge, I meticulously surveyed the carts and the first hour went by the admiration of these food trucks. Reminded me of the Jon Faverau movie Chef. Cuteness overload with sayings and innovative artwork & design- it called out to my creative senses. A kids area with inflated islands made me wish I was young again- just to bounce with no care in the world. 

  

This dynamic duo kept the feet tapping all night with a heady mix of contemporary jazz to covers. 

There were a few live seminars and cooking demonstrations that had a captivated audience, understanding the art of baking the perfect cake, to mixology sessions for ones next house party.  As much as I would have liked to sit through it all, I had a mission. A mission to ensure I ate my heart out (figuratively speaking). 

  
Live cooking sessions underway. I love the Brits and their sense of humor. 

Here is a spotlight of the event through my IPhone. A snippet of each dish would be self explanatory, in order not to send you into a inception like comatose state. I’m nice that way. NOT!! 

  

Gelato’s drive me wild. On a stick, they take me to the brink of insanity. Especially freshly made and a wide variety of choice- Walnuts, pistachio, coconut, Vanilla bean, Belgian chocolate & Strawberry to name a few. 

  The Crunchy Crab burger is the stuff dreams are made off. Beer batter fried chunks of crab in a wholesome bun with loads of coleslaw and secret sauce. Hits the spot. 

  The folks from Made of Dough, stole my mind and thought for innovative design. An old Land Rover Discovery converted into a stone slab wood fired pizza oven was innovative and compact and looked so good. Quite practical indeed. The pizzas were nice. 

  Onion rings with crab sauce and fiery chillies was your gastronomic orgasm for the fast food fiend in me. Gulliver would be proud given the size of em rings. 

  Ever tried Haloumi? A delicious Cypriot semi-hard, unripened brined cheese made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk, (sometimes cows too). Slightly coarse in texture and deep fried with pomegranate seeds and melted fondue, this was definitely an acquired taste. 

  One can never really go wrong with French fries, especially when you are listening to La bamba being belted out live in front of you. Lest to forget the crab dressing accompaniment. Sweet sour and tangy. 

  Braco’s sliders-These are undescribable. I shall do a great injustice even trying to explain the same. Let me stick to the ingredients and let your mind run wild in all different directions. Here’s goes.  

 Grass fed rib eye beef with chimichurri & British cheddar cheese torched with a flame gun (shown above) and served buttery. A calorific sin of magnanimous proportions. 

  Churros Churros Churros. Fresh off the boiling vat. Whoop. Little sticks of chocolate doughnuty heaven indeed. 

  This organic cooler was a thirst quencher. Fruity with a tequila base and some Thai cucumber- it was indeed (almost) organic. Aint tequila in some cultures considered organic too? 

  Italiano in UAE. Love the enthusiasm of this bunch and they were so much fun not to forget mentioning some of the best Buffala I had on my trip there. 

  

‘The dream’ fulfilled. Milo & Hector’s caramel ice cream with sprinkles sandwiched in double chocolate gooey cookies. Heaven in every bite. Screw the calories. It was so worth it. 

Stay tuned as I tunnel my way back to the real world. 

Planet Hollywood Hotel- it’s here!

Let’s dig deep and ask ourselves- are we star crazy? I’m not referring to the constellations or stars in the skies rather all the Stars in ‘Woods’ ranging from Holly,Bolly,Tolly and perhaps someplace in the world-Molly. 

Let’s play the Instant two second reaction game? Ok! Here goes.What happens to you when you see a known celebrity pass by? Do you salivate, perhaps scrimmage through your Gucci handbag for that IPhone (selfie time to guffaw with friends over drinks later) and go ditzy and weak in the knees all at once? I have the odd family member time and again and it’s hilarious, mind you. If so, this is one place you don’t want to miss on your destination radar. 

Welcome to Planet Hollywood. A place that could possibly have you mingling and hobnobbing (non chalantely) with A and B listers on the next breakfast table or casually lapping it at the pool. It’s a destination hideaway where the stars come to unwind and this iconic international brand is the ONLY one of its kind (currently) making its presence felt in our backyard right here in Goa. Only two Planet Hollywood Hotels in the world (the first being in Las Vegas) and the first one in Asia. This is a huge deal indeed. I’m excited!!!

I drive up the very German block design inspired driveway and make my way to the reception. Right then and there I stand with a jaw drop expression. No I did not see Pamela Anderson walk past me, though that is on my bucket list this lifetime, rather was arrested by the ‘Wall of Fame‘ with its ginormous screen at the bar in the lobby- The Heart Bar. 

 The devil lies in the details of the minimal decor and color tone setup with white and purple being the predominant winners for the overall theme. My check-in was smooth and time flew by, as my eyes traversed the length and breadth of that wall. Stars in all their glory from current to yesteryears- with the ocassional odd movie playing on the screen for visual appeal. 

Tired from my journey, post the meetings and greetings from the effervescent staff, I am ushered to my room. It’s uncanny how I am given a room with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson adorning my masthead above in his Hercules avatar- a movie I happened to watch just the other night. Karma perhaps?

 The room is spacious and well balanced in decor and light. It’s got mood lighting for all you lovely couples and a beautiful relaxed balcony with a hint view of the beach in the distance. The bed has a cloud like embrace and allows you to sink in whilst it moulds itself to the contours of your body. There is an added touch with a leg massager given for those aching feet and is a much needed delight to sore heels. 

The bathroom is well proportioned with his and her sinks and a wet rain shower cabinet with a similar resemblance of ‘Boogie Nights’ and shimmering floors. Rather large enough to hear myself think, like ‘The Thinker’ on the commode. 

Tastefully Opulent   
A hot shower post, I am ready for breakfast. While this is a #staycation mention, the one item making it to this review has got to be the delicately moulded Eggs Benedict at the hands of Chef Sundar. I would do it a great injustice if this had to be explained especially the gastronomic senses that sent my tones into a frenzied rapture- a mere suggestion for you egg lovers? Do yourself a favor and head on over to Planet Dailies and order this marvel.
Eggs Benedict with Hollandaise sauce  

The eager beaver in me scouted the grounds to find out much an interesting thing. There is a playground for kids and an archery zone to practice your aim. The beach is close by with its pristine sands. The swimming pool is magnificent and vast with a pool bar menu thrown to you by the peppy staff as a frisbee. Fun indeed!! 

For those more adventerous there is a Zorb in the pool as well as a paddle boat to exercise those muscles. The gym has an overview of all the heavenly bodies entering the pool in swim trunks and bikinis. This could, without doubt be a venue for the Pirelli calendar of 2017. I did spot a couple of celebrities but this is a haven for them to unwind; so Mum’s the word!!! Head on over and carry your camera.

The spaces are expansive and one can make out the grandiosity of the venue through the definition of its negative space. Neat and crisp lines with memorabilia around to remind you of the theme at hand. 

Grandeur defined in negative spaces 

Each section of the resort is well defined; from their Pink Room Spa to their multiple dining venues. There is Planet Dailies– their signature all day dining restaurant, Fame– the hot spot resto lounge, Heart Bar– the eclectically designed high energy bar, Cigar lounge– A perfect place to relax over champagne, martinis and that perfect stogie in old world charm (I felt the ghost of Winston Churchill while I sat there- it’s that Brit!!) 

Being spoilt for choice I have decided to head on over soon just to cover the Food Junket of these amazing establishments. More on that shortly. 

Feeling Nostalgic @ Cigar lounge   

If you know me, I have a bucket list of sorts. One of them would have recently been ticked off this year, all thanks to the magical pool under a starry lit sky. The lights twinkle beneath you and the cool blue water is a perfect romantic setting for you and your loved ones. I happened to do hand stands and cartwheels however- blame it on the kid in me. But imagine a late night swim (the pool is open till 9pm) with your beloved and relax in the perched jacuzzi ahead and whisper sweet nothings to your special someone. A truly magical experience. 

Before I sign out here’s mr. NObody for a fleeting second feeling like a Somebody!!  Till I head on over again Planet Hollywood – you have been a STAR! 
Stars above and below 

 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography. All images shot on Iphone6 

GOA Calling: A Homestay Guide 

Every once in a while a magnum opus project comes ones way. For me this was in the form of the latest trends of #homestays for #timesofindia for the season 2015-2016. 

It was an arduous task traversing the length and breadth of this fine state of ours to being to you the top 20 #homestays     across India. 

Lucky and honoured to have catalogued and compiled the Goa chapter for this fantastic initiative. 

The guide is is available at your leading  bookstores. So before you head on over for the season do check out the list. It’s a home away from home experience. 

 

  

Grab your copy today!!